Liverpool fixture congestion presents serious conundrum

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While many folks were still catching their breath, the wild Liverpool win over Arsenal on penalties in the EFL Cup two days ago caused a number of executives and officials to groan.

Jurgen Klopp brought Liverpool’s fixture congestion issue to the forefront with his surprising threat on Wednesday that the club could pull out of the EFL Cup. While that remains highly unlikely, the problem for the Reds is real, and lots of shuffling will likely have to happen for the Reds to fulfill all its commitments this season.

With lots of possibilities thrown into the air of late, here is a breakdown of where the club currently stands.

Current commitments

“You go through the fixture list, trying to fit in the Carabao Cup game and go ‘wow!'” Klopp said in his press conference on Friday. “There’s a long way to go, problems to sort and a lot of yards to run. But it’s the basis we’ve created and it’s a lot better than we could have expected, points-wise.”

Liverpool is at the moment locked into a significant number of commitments. Here is where they stand in all competitions outside the league at the moment:

Champions League – vs. Genk 11/5, vs. Napoli 11/27, @ RB Salzburg 12/10

FA Cup – draw has not yet taken place, first possible game 1/3

EFL Cup – @ Aston Villa 12/17 (quarterfinals), vs. TBD 1/7 or 8 and 1/28 or 29 (semifinals, if necessary)

Club World Cup – vs. TBD 12/18, vs. TBD 12/21 (competition takes place in Qatar)

Conflicts

As you can see above, the conflict presents itself between the Club World Cup and the EFL Cup match against Aston Villa. It would be impossible for the club to fulfill the schedule as currently constructed, playing at Aston Villa on December 17 and then flying to Qatar for its first Club World Cup match on December 18.

Rescheduling the EFL Cup match has been an absolute nightmare thanks to other conflicts as well, with Liverpool booked midweek for the next few months. Following the November international break, Liverpool has its Champions League game against Napoli on 11/27 followed by a pair of Premier League games against Bournemouth and Everton both scheduled for the next week. Liverpool then plays its final Champions League game against RB Salzburg on 12/10 before the Club World Cup trip the next week.

The festive period comes next with league games against Leicester City, Wolves, and Sheffield United through 1/2, and then the first leg of the EFL Cup semifinals are scheduled for the next week, leaving no time for the quarterfinal to be rescheduled anywhere in that span.

Possible solutions

“The discussion is obvious, that it is too much,” Klopp said on Friday. “It is absolutely obvious. Everyone involved in the game knows. Nobody wants to touch it, nobody really discusses about it. Then Uefa decides to make the Nations League, give the successful players a couple of more intense games.

“People then say you need a bigger squad. The game is not made for bigger squads. At the moment there is an imbalance between the number of players in the squad, the competitions you play and a big gap between the breaks the boys need. They have two weeks off a year, in a physically demanding game. The solutions, I think there are a few possible, but the leagues have to sit and really discuss and think about the players and maybe not their wallet. We discuss it always on the back of the money we earn. Somebody has to think about how many games.”

According to Dale Johnson of ESPN, the most likely solution would be to play the quarterfinal against Aston Villa on 1/7 and postponing the ensuing semifinal first leg originally scheduled for that day to a later date. However, even that presents potential conflicts as the next few weeks are reserved for FA Cup matches, and potential FA Cup third round (1/14) or fourth round (2/4) replays for either participant could cause further havoc.

Another potential solution could be to move the club’s Premier League game against Watford (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 and playing the EFL Cup game against Aston Villa on Monday 12/15 before the club departs for Qatar. That would also require the Premier League to reschedule Aston Villa’s game against Sheffield United (originally scheduled for Saturday 12/14) to Friday 12/13 to accommodate the move.

Winter break

The danger of pushing games back as previously suggested presents itself as the club just pushes back the problem to a later and later date. Should the schedule conflicts continue to be shoved further down the calendar, the winter break comes into play. Liverpool is scheduled for a break between games on 2/8 and 2/22 as all Premier League clubs are this season with the league hoping to slowly build a stoppage into its schedule ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar that will require such a scheduling quirk.

Klopp has maintained that the club will not accommodate any alteration to its winter break, thereby subjecting it to a disadvantage to other clubs in the English top flight. This means any FA Cup or EFL Cup fixtures pushed back into February will have to be seriously postponed and could come up against other Cup fixtures or even Champions League knockout stage games.

Klopp’s threat

Could Liverpool really drop out of the EFL Cup altogether to alleviate their fixture congestion? It’s unlikely, and there is no precedent for such a drastic measure. Because the club has already entered the competition and begun play, dropping out would incur a hefty fine.

Manchester United pulled out of the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season thanks in part to the FIFA Club World Championship, but that saw the club withdraw from the competition before play began, meaning they were not drawn into the competition and given fixture obligations.

Leaving the fixtures as they are and having Liverpool play a youth squad in the EFL Cup is also not an ideal option, Klopp said when asked about the possibility on Friday. “We have discussed it already and we have to because there’s not much time to make that decision,” Klopp said. “If we do play [the EFL Cup] while we are in Qatar, that will be two different teams. But we cannot leave any players at home for the Carabao Cup. We have two games in a busy period and it’s not like we can go there [Qatar] with 11 players. It doesn’t work like this. We have to make a decision but not yet.”